COVID-19 caused a massive shift towards single-use plastics as a safer way to distribute meals, but they are the least creative option available. An institution with as much means as Cornell Dining could, and slowly is finding new ways to integrate more effective composting and recycling strategies.
I raised my speckled, squished banana out of my backpack with a mission to find the nearest compost bin. My first stop: Trillium dining hall. As soon as I entered, I saw the row of large bins and posters and spotted the small, almost unnoticeable compost sign posted to the side of where the rest of the bins were. But there was no bin. As a Trillium employee exited from the kitchen, I asked if she knew where the compost bin was.
Armed with buckets and posters, Cornell’s 35 student composting managers are combating food waste in dorms in an effort to reduce the amount of organic material sent to the Ithaca landfill. About two-thirds of student residence halls — all but the townhouses and some West Campus houses — are equipped with composting bins, including large dumpsters and buckets, according to Naomi Haber ’20, Sustainability Coordinator at the Campus Sustainability Office. Every year, 4,000 tons of organic waste, including waste from residence halls and dining halls, is converted to compost through Cornell’s composting facilities, the largest composting operation in Tompkins County. The student compost managing team, which was established in September last semester, are meant to lead sustainable development in the student community, according to Haber. They keep track of the compost buckets and are responsible for depositing food scraps into one of the large bins on either North or West Campus once a week.
Upon first entering Trillium, you can immediately see three large trash cans, two recycling bins and a yellow compost bin. Or should I say, five trash cans with different colors. These bins’ contents are indistinguishable — each one has a mix of recyclable plastics, food, napkins and utensils. The large informational posters above each bin seem to serve no purpose.